Virgulle’s Vestral 47

Wednesday 16th November 2011

Afternoon tea

HUGO, it is, today. His polite knock coincides with the clock chiming the hour in the hall.

“Ah, here’s our tea!” Isobel always pretends that the tray has arrived unexpectedly early. “Doesn’t time fly?”

Hugo sets the tray down on her desk. She chooses a small cake or biscuit, pours the tea, adds milk to her own. In a small bowl on the tray are slices of lemon, one of which Hugo transfers to my cup, using silver tongs. The cup and a plate are placed on the card table next to my chair, before he invites me to choose something from the confectionary on the tray.

Nothing is said. I point, he serves.

Usually I thank him (or Frances, if it’s her turn), conveying my gratitude with a smile. They are not permitted to speak to me. I know that because Frances has told me. She thinks her spell of duty at the fortress will be over soon. She won’t be told until an hour before: just enough time to pack. I’ll miss her.

Hugo leaves the room and Isobel and I are alone once more. This half an hour, she has decided, is mine: to speak, sing, shout, scream, slurp my tea, belch, cough or remain silent. Isobel only responds if I address her directly. With her second cup of tea, she smokes a cheroot.

We have been playing this charade for many days.

When the clock chimes the half hour, Hugo (or Frances) is re-admitted. Preferring the session to end in silence, I make the same daily enquiries as soon as I have finished my tea:

“Please can I see Arthur? Is there news of Emily? Please can I send a letter to the Walker family?”

Isobel always replies:

“I’m sorry, that is not possible. I have received no news concerning Emily. I’m sorry, but that is not possible.”

When Hugo (or Frances) unlocks the manacle that has been attached to the leg of my chair – immediately snapping it around his (or her) own wrist – I stand and leave with my escort. The manacle is attached by a short length of chain to another round my own wrist, which will only be removed when I am back in my quarters.

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